Clymer Head Hopes Merger Opponents OK Budget

As all school districts in Chautauqua County prepare for today’s budget votes, the Clymer Central School District will be dealing with a unique situation, one that requires 60 percent supermajority voter approval.

The 2018-19 proposed budget of $11,561,554 asks for a 13 percent tax levy increase which exceeds the state allowed tax cap of 4 percent. The tax levy increase in the proposed budget is $529,085 more than the previous year which is $357,192 above the tax cap which totals $4,641,024 for the 2018-19 school year. For properties assessed at $100,000, the estimated increase would be $180 a year or $15 a month. Ed Bailey, superintendent of the Clymer district, said the estimated tax rate would still keep Clymer as one of the lowest in the county.

The district is asking for a tax increase following a failed merger with the Panama Central School District last year. After a long feasibility study within both communities, residents took to the voting booths in November with Panama voting in favor of the merger, 192-168, and Clymer against, by way of a whopping 654-186 vote.

Bailey said the potential merger between the two districts was incorrectly viewed as the “financial answer.” Following the results, the district was tasked with creating a budget for a small school that was no longer in talks for combining districts. Formerly shared superintendent of both districts Bert Lictus resigned from his post at Clymer early this year and Bailey, former Clymer principal, was tasked with filling that position.

“Financially, it’s been a real challenge,” Bailey said of the budget process. “We’re looking at cutting costs while not cutting programs.”

The superintendent said while the proposed budget has increased the tax levy, the school’s spending has only increased 2 percent.

Bailey cited two main reasons the district is in the position it finds its self today. The first being a $500,000 state aid “take-back” that was finally implemented during the previous school year. The $500,000 originated following a state aid capital project in 2008. After reviewing the submitted cost report, the state determined that $500,000 of project was not aidable and therefore that district owed that money to the state. Last year, the state reclaimed the unaidable money by deducting it from the school’s annual state aid.

“It cut into our fund balance significantly,” Bailey said.

Bailey noted that the take-back is almost the amount of the tax levy increase in the proposed budget.

The second reason Bailey referenced was the district’s decision to keep the tax levy flat over the past two school years. A decision he said might have played into the potential merger by viewing it as a solution.

Regardless, Bailey, the school and district voters are faced with a budget vote. Bailey said he hoped the people who voted against the merger would be in support of the budget.

“I certainly hope the people that were in favor of staying as a small school are in favor of the small school budget,” he said.

Bailey said the tax increase now, rather than later, would help maintain a “safe fund balance” going into future school years. In the proposed budget, the fund balance sits at $355,248.

If the proposed budget doesn’t pass the district would only be “kicking the can down the road for one more year” where and when the proposed tax levy increase would be potentially even higher, Bailey explained.

“We’ve done everything possible to cut our budget without cutting programs,” he said. “We believe our kids deserve opportunities they have had in the past. We just need the funding to do it.”

Clymer held its budget hearing last Monday where Bailey said people asked great questions regarding the budget. He said there were people who voiced opinions in favor and against the proposed budget, and that out of the 50 people that attended everyone remained “respectful and orderly.”

As for if he had an idea how the voting results would shape out, Bailey didn’t know. He remained proud of the work the school and the board has put into crafting a budget in what he called a “tough situation.”

District voting will be open from noon-8 p.m. today at the school where the district will need an approval rating of 60 percent in order to pass the proposed budget exceeding the tax cap.